LOCAL HEALTH: Experts warn about digital sleep distractions

Posted: Mar. 19, 2013 5:47 pm Updated: Apr. 9, 2013 6:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The communal flip phones used by Barb Hun's family don't keep her children up in the night.

But studies show the Quincy family's method of limiting cellular distractions is in the minority.

A National Sleep Foundation Study said 56 percent of teenagers send or receive text messages in the hour before sleeping. Nine percent of teenagers answer calls, text messages and email in the middle of each night, while an additional 18 percent handle these sleep interruptions a few nights a week.

Dr. Nanjappa Somanna, a sleep specialist for Blessing Physician Services, explained that these nightly distractions may negatively affect memory retention, as well as cause depression and obesity.

"It's a national epidemic we're having right now," Somanna said. "Just like how you need food and how you need to sleep. It's a main, basic necessity."

Hun's eight children circulate two phones for emergency purposes. Her 15- and 17-year-olds use them most frequently, but the phones still don't text.

"Everybody thinks we're crazy that our kids don't text or anything," Hun said. "You hear so many things that transpire through texting. It's just unnecessary."

While Hun has her kids tucked in without distractions, many Americans force the issue. The same study showed 95 percent of those surveyed use some sort of electronic device before sleeping. Older adults lean toward television, but young adults and teenagers opt for cellphones, tablets and laptops. These devices keep ringing even after the sleeper turns the lights out, and they can disrupt the 9.25 hours of sleep per night the National Sleep Foundation recommends for teenagers.

Somanna explained that teenagers often overestimate their ability to function without sleep. The study showed that more than half of teenagers surf the Internet every night before going to bed.

Sondi Brockmiller said her 16-year-old son takes his phone to bed with him, but she believes it doesn't affect the amount of sleep he receives. She explained that his athletic activities and demanding schedule have him wiped out in time for bed. The phone may ring, but she said her son is more interested in sleeping.

"By the time it's bedtime, he's exhausted," she said. "I just don't have much problem with him going to sleep."

Mary Duesterhaus, clinical coordinator of neurodiagnostics for Hannibal Regional Hospital, said the bright lights given off from screens keep the brain stimulated even after the power button is off. She recommends using the hours before bed to settle the mind without electronics. She said teenagers and adults will sleep better if they use the time immediately before bed for quiet activities such as conversation, showers or reading books. She advised that parents keep electronics out of the bedrooms to avoid temptation.

"Just because your (children are) in their room and they might be in bed, but that doesn't mean they're sleeping," she said.

The lack of personal electronic devices in the Hun family encourages sleep, but the mother of eight also attributes most of the nighttime success to pushing a strict bedtime.

Her youngest are in the covers by 7:30 p.m.; the older ones at 9:30 p.m. Her oldest two have more leeway, but she said her own parents enforced a strict bedtime and she always planned to carry on that tradition.

"I'm kind of a stickler at bedtime," Hun said. "When it's bedtime, it's bedtime, and they know it."


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